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This year marks the 30th anniversary of Linux, so to celebrate I’m going to give you a quick run down of its history and influence in the modern computing world. What is Linux? Just like Windows and iOS, Linux is an operating system, and simply put, Linux is everywhere. Android, one of the most popular platforms on the planet, is powered by Linux. The major websites, Google, Facebook and Wikipedia all run on Linux, and, it pretty much owns the cloud! The Linux operating system reaches a user base across the globe and is in our phones, supercomputers, thermostats, televisions and cars. Not to mention it is the platform of choice for servers as it is one of the most reliable and secure operating systems available.
The Linux kernel (the heart of the operating system) has been in development for 30 years and has a large community of developers, contributors and testers. This community is joined the thousands of programmers, engineers and administrators around the world who use Linux for fun and as part of their employment.
Large corporations also profit from working with and sharing expertise on Linux. The larger and more active also join the Linux Foundation and invest substantial resources into development, compatibility with their products and also so core contributors to receive a salary.
In 1991 Linux started out as a personal hobby project by Linus Torvalds, a Finnish computer science student at the University of Helsinki. His aim was to create a new free operating system kernel.
Initially, Torvalds wanted to name his invention ‘Freax’, a compilation of ‘free’, ‘freak’ and ‘x’. He had already considered the name Linux but thought it was too egotistical. After the files were uploaded to the FTP server, Ari Lemmke, a volunteer FTP administrator at the University, did not think ‘Freax’ was a good name. He decided to change it to Linux without first consulting Torvalds. However Torvalds later consented to the name change, and even included instructions on how to pronounce the name in his source code.
In 1996 Torvalds revealed a penguin, named Tux, as the mascot for Linux. This idea came about after he was bitten by a small penguin on his visit to the National Zoo & Aquarium in Canberra, Australia. The name Tux came as a derivative of Torvald’s UniX operating system, as well as the tuxedo suit bearing resemblance to the colour of the penguins coat.
Linux can be installed on a wide range of computers and specialist hardware. It’s openness allows a developer to change how it works and it also gives the user complete control over what is installed (and what isn’t!). Linux also allows companies to build it for special projects in robotics and high performance computing. Which is why the top super computers are all based on it and why Nasa used it on their recent Mars mission.
With all of that, Linux still remains perfect for the home hobbyist who has an old computer, gathering dust, that needs a new lease of life. And of course the Raspberry Pi, arguably the cheapest home computer you can buy.
This openness and flexibility makes the software free in the figurative sense (free as in beer)*. This means:
Which is pretty awesome really!
* Note: free as in beer means the person enjoying the drink is free to do so, they’ve not paid anything. Its the giver who has made that gift without any expectation in return. Just like free software. You can learn more about Linux and celebrate its 30th birthday here!